Working From Home

09Mar20

TL;DR

I prefer working from home over the grind of a daily commute. After many years of doing it I’ve been able to refine my working environment to make it comfortable and productive.

Background

As the COVID-19 pandemic bites a bunch of people are working from home who might not be so used to it. Guides like this one from Justin Garrison are showing up, so I thought I’d take a pass at my own.

I’ve more or less worked from home for the past 7 years, which covers my time at Cohesive Networks then DXC. Before that I generally had a work from home day (or two) in a typical week. Now there’s no such thing as a typical week; I work from home whenever I don’t need to be somewhere else – whether that’s the London office, or the Bangalore office (which is where I was supposed to be today).

A (semi) dedicated room

I’ve used 4 different rooms over the years, and in each case it’s been my ‘office’.

  • Bedroom 2 had plenty of room for my desk and a guest bed, but that was when $son0 was still a toddler, and when he grew up he needed the space.
  • Tiny front room had just enough space, but was an acoustic disaster when the family were home. I was kind of glad when it became our utility room and I was kicked out in favour of the washing machine and tumble dryer (and dog).
  • Bedroom 3 was good enough, but didn’t still serve as a family or guest bedroom, which was kind of a waste.
  • The loft conversion is perfect – dedicated space at the top of the house away from family noise and other distractions. There’s a futon in there that can be pressed into service for guests.

Desk

Prior to the loft conversion I used a computer unit from Ikea, which was entirely satisfactory in terms of layout and storage. The loft conversion provided an opportunity to get a custom desk made (from kitchen worktop).

Chair

If you’re spending 45 hours a week in a chair then it needs to be a good one that’s not going to cause back trouble. My tool of choice is a Herman Miller Aeron (used from eBay).

Light

The loft conversion has large Velux windows front and back, which provide plenty of natural light during the day (and in the summer I’m glad for the awnings that keep down the heat and glare). During the winter months the ceiling mounted LED down lights see service at the beginning and end of days.

Quiet please

My silent PC means I’m not dealing with fans whirring all day, which really helps with concentration. There’s a bit of background coil whine from power supplies; but then there’s also wind, and rain, and traffic going by.

Big screen(s)

I run a Dell U2715H 27″ 2560×1440 as my main display, which gives me space for two browser sessions docked to each side of the screen (and most of my stuff is done in a browser).

A Samsung 24″ 1920×1080 screen provides extra real estate for full screen apps, including presenting on web conferences etc.

Webcam

I have a Logitech device that dates back to the dark ages before laptops had their own webcams built in, but it’s still perfectly functional. It attaches to mounting points made from Lego and held down with Sugru.

Headset

I can use the webcam mic and monitor speakers for a speakerphone type experience, and that’s great if I’m expecting to be mostly on mute, but can cause echo issues.

When I’m presenting or expecting to talk a lot I have a Jabra 930 that I covered in my previous Headsets (mini review).

Staying healthy in body

I try to stand every hour to keep streaks going on my Apple Watch (and it will sometimes remind me if I’m remiss on that).

The futon provides a useful anchor for sit-ups to keep core strength.

The loft conversion means plenty of flights of stairs to run up and down for glasses of water, cups of tea, and answering the door to the postman and delivery drivers.

My lunchtime routine is to walk the dog to the local shop, whilst listening to a podcast, so that’s exercise, learning and food all taken care of.

Staying healthy in mind

I don’t miss the ‘water cooler’. It’s nice to bump into colleagues when I’m in the office, but I don’t feel bereft of human contact whilst at home. That might be different if I spent less of my days talking to colleagues on various calls.

Time management

Not commuting means not wasting 3hrs each day on train rides and getting to and from stations, but it’s easy for that time to get soaked up by work stuff. I try to force a stop when the family gets home from their days. It’s good to be flexible at times though, and taking a late call from home is a lot less bother than staying late at the office.

Colleagues

Most of the people I work with at DXC also work from home with occasional trips elsewhere to be in the office, visit customers and partners, and attend events; so the company has a decent amount of remote working baked into the culture. That includes time zone sensitivity and management that don’t expect people to be in a particular place.

Conclusion

I’d hate to go back to the daily grind of a commuting job. I think it would make me less productive, and also a lot less happy. Working from home is definitely something I see as a positive, but to make the best of it takes a little work to get the right environment.

Update 18 Mar 2020 – Power and UPS

This post I just saw from Gautam Jayaraman on LinkedIn reminded me of something I’d left out – making sure the lights stay on, or in the case of home working your PC, monitor, router and anything vital connecting them together. I’ve ended up with 4 UPSs dotted around the house, which are vital given the poor quality of my utility electricity supply.



One Response to “Working From Home”

  1. 1 Pete Fletcher

    Very insightful Chris. I too have worked from home for over 13 years. For me, separating the distractions from rest of the home was number one priority. I found bedrooms didn’t work – especially with a young family. I ended up converting my double garage. It’s far enough away to know that I have started or finished my work activity. You also need to be quite dedicated on when to start and end your day else you risk home life become work life or vice versa.


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